How to Feed Eight People on the Cheap
I actually got the idea for this page while on the way back from the supermarket. They had nice sausage on sale for $2.99 a pound, and I already had some onions, peppers, and pasta that I'd purchased the previous week -- all of which had been on sale.
I had to use up the peppers before they went bad, so I had gone to the grocer to pick up some beef to make pepper steak. But when I saw the sausage on sale, I decided to use that instead. If you don't eat pork, you can substitute beef, veal, lamb, venison, chicken... pretty much anything, actually.
For lamb and game meats, introduce the wine and tomatoes earlier on, when the meat has just started to cook. That will help mellow out the gaminess. The rest of the recipe is the same.
Another helpful trick if using tougher cuts of meat is to slice the meat against the grain before cooking it. This helps the meat tenderize a bit more during the cooking process, and also makes it seem more tender when it's served because it comes apart more easily. This simple trick can help you save money by choosing less-expensive cuts of meat.
The total cost for the ingredients was about $25.00, except for the wine, which was a very nice Portuguese that my favorite wine vendor found for me. It costs less than $7.00 a bottle and is excellent for drinking, but cheap enough for cooking.
My point in writing this page is to demonstrate, especially to the microwave generation, that you can eat well on the cheap if you're willing to actually learn how to cook, rather than just how to heat. This is an easy, affordable, delicious meal that will fill your tummy and please your guests, without breaking the budget.
Here are the ingredients I used:
- 3 lbs Italian sweet sausage
- A little olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning
- Salt and Pepper
- 2 28-oz cans of crushed tomatoes
- 3 medium onions
- 2 large, green bell peppers
- Some wine
You'll also need some pasta, rice, bread, toast, or something else to serve it over.
Step 1: Learn to Use Your Stove
The biggest mistake most people who are new to cooking make is using too much heat. This whole meal (except for boiling the water for the pasta) is prepared using low-medium heat.
Using too much heat causes food to burn and stick to pans, and doesn't really do that good a job of cooking the inside of meat. Especially when cooking pork or poultry, it's important to get the inner temperature to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and slow cooking over lower heat does that without burning the outside of the meat.
Slow-cooking over lower heat also gives all the ingredients time to meld together without getting a "scorched" taste. Long story short: Don't turn the range up too high.
Step 2: Cut Up the Meat and Put it in the Pot
Okay, so that's two steps. But I forgot to take a picture of myself cutting up the meat.
Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. I have a big mouth, so what's bite-size for me is between an inch and an inch and a half. Cutting the meat helps it to cook evenly, and it also means your guests won't need knives to eat. That can be handy, just in case they don't like the meal.
Put a little olive oil in a BIG pot and toss in the cut-up meat. Stir it around a bit so the oil evenly coats the pieces of meat. If you're using sausage, don't be too vigorous with the stirring or you'll knock the meat out of the casings.
Cover the meat and let it cook for a little while over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat just starts to cook. While this is happening, peel and slice the onions.
Step 3: Add the Onions and the Dry Seasonings
Once the meat starts to cook, toss the sliced onions into the pot and stir them into the meat. Also add the dry ingredients at this time and stir them into the mix.
The reason we're doing this is both so the flavors start to mix together, and because onions take a lot longer to cook than peppers do. Timing meals is a skill you'll pick up with practice. Until then, trust me on this.
Again, use low-medium heat. If you use too much heat, the onions and the dry seasonings will scorch, and it'll taste horrible. Continue to cook the mixture, covered, until the meat is almost completely cooked.
Step 4: Add Some Wine
When the meat is almost completely cooked, it's time to add the wine. Add enough wine to almost completely cover the meat. Little bits of meat should poke up here and there.
The reason for waiting until the meat is almost completely cooked is because you don't want too much of the wine flavor getting into the meat, especially when using pork or poultry, which have more delicate flavors than lamb or beef.
If you're preparing this meal using red meat, I suggest you use red wine. If you're using poultry, I suggest you use white wine. If you're using pork, well, sometimes I use white, and sometimes I use red. This time I used red.
Let the mixture slowly cook, covered, for about 10 - 20 minutes, during which you should start slicing your peppers.
Steps 5 and 6: Add the Peppers and Tomatoes
Peppers take a lot less time to cook than the other ingredients. If you add them too early on, they'll get all mushy and yucky.
At this point, the rest of the meal is almost done, so it's a good time to add the peppers. Slice them into bite-sized slices, stir them into the meat and onion mix, and let it cook, covered, for about five minutes.
At that time, uncover the pot again and add the two cans of crushed tomatoes. Stir them well into the mix.
At this point, cover the pot again, and continue to cook until the mixture begins to boil.
Step 7: Simmer
Once the mixture begins to boil, turn the heat down to the lowest setting (it may be "Low," "Simmer," or a number "1." Whatever the lowest setting is on your stove, that's the one you want to use.
When the recipe is ready to be served, it will look like the picture at the right. The bright red of the tomatoes will have toned down a bit as it mixes with the juices of the meat, and there will be little patches of fats and oils on the top. You can spoon those off if you like, although you don't have to.
While the simmering is happening, start boiling the water for the pasta. Typically it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to make pasta, which is about how long the sausage mixture should simmer.
Step 8: Serve!
This meal is basically a sauce, and it is most often served over pasta, as in the picture on the right.
You can also serve it over rice, or as an open sandwich over bread or toast. If you're a gavone, you can make it into a sandwich on Italian bread, and enjoy that wonderful feeling of tomatoes dripping down your neck and under your armpits.
You can also just eat it out of the bowl; or if you like, you can add another can of tomatoes and some water, and make it into a soup.
Served over pasta as in the picture on the right, this meal should serve six to eight adults. Serve some salad on the side and some inexpensive red wine, and hey, who's got it better than you?